10 Kids Camping Gear

I take my kids camping so they’ll know the Big Dipper really exists. I take them camping so they can hear real birds sing, not just cuckoos. But once I get out there, I realize I am no professional entertainer, I need these camping “toys” to help me. All of them fit into a kid’s backpack.

1. Camping Lantern

Kids just love carrying lanterns. For walking to the bathroom, finding the perfect marshmallow stick or just to get around camp after dark. Go with battery-operated lanterns because gas lanterns are hot, have a risk of fire, and not safe to use inside a tent.

2. Flashlight or, even better, Headlamps

Kids’ flashlights come in bright and cheerful colors. Many have cords to avoid losing or dropping the flashlight. My advice: get one for each kid. They’re not expensive, usually less than $10, and you spare yourself a lot of quarrelling. If your budget allows, consider a headlamp. It brings vision of brave cave explorers and Indiana Jones.

3. Bug Jar or Kit

Open a child’s eyes and curiosity to the critters around him. Coleman even has a tall, cylindrical bug kit designed to safely hold fireflies. At night the fireflies turn it into a twinkling lantern. How magical is that?

4. Compass

Compass for kids should be rugged, with clear markings. Show a kid how to use a compass with a map and he will learn a skill that’s handy not just for camping, but when he goes backpacking in Europe, or when he hikes up the Himalayans. You can get a basic camping compass for $10 to $15.

5. Star Finder

Stargazing is cooler than any video game. Due to the orbital motion of the earth, the sky appears to rotate, so to be successful recognizing the constellations, you need to know which stars are above the horizon at that time.

A rotating star finder helps kids recognize the constellations for any given time of the year. Just turn the dial to match the day of the year. Make sure you get the star finder for your specific region in the world. For example, the star finder you use in the New York won’t help you in Spain. If you are new to stargazing, check out a couple sites on the web by googling ‘star gazing”

6. Water Bottles

I get the simple unbreakable Nalgene bottles for my kids. However, these days, you can get kid-sized hydration packs which can hold 4-6 cups of water. It allows hand-free drinking, which is useful when you hands are occupied bicycling or carrying hiking poles.

7. Binoculars

Binoculars are handy for camping, hiking, bird watching and general nature study. For kids, make sure the eye-cups are flexible and comfortable and that it has a cord the kid can put over his neck so he won’t lose it. You can pick one up in the camping section of Target or Walmart.

8. Whistle (a LOUD one)

This is a safety gear a kid should have at all times in the wilderness. Find whistles that are light but extremely loud. Make sure its around your kids neck when he goes exploring, not stuffed at the bottom of his pack.

9. Sunglasses

Children may not be as interested as adults are in the fashion aspect of sunglasses. However, they actually need it even more because

1) they spend more time outdoors in direct sunlight and

2) they are more vulnerable to solar radiation since their eyes’ protective pigments are not fully developed.

For kids sunglasses, look for polycarbonate lenses. They are strong, durable and impact-resistant. Look for 98 percent or 100 percent protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

There are glasses designed just for toddlers. They have reversible frames – upside-down, downside-up doesn’t matter; built-in adjustable straps; and short, flexible sides for comfort. My favorite place for kids and toddlers technical gear like this is upsideover.com [http://www.joyofcamping.com/uo/shop/D-14/Kids_technical_sunglasses.html].

10. Backpack

Finally, a backpack to tote all these fun gear. You don’t want them to keep bugging you, ‘Dad, where is my … Mom, where is my…” Get a light fabric or nylon backpack with a simple zipper and a pocket or two. Stay away from those heavy-duty canvas backpacks with 12 pockets and all kinds of straps and contraptions. They are too cumbersome for junior adventurous campers.

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